Thursday, August 28, 2008


I sent some of you my essay for the Real Simple contest, but I thought I'd post what I think is going to be my final product. I am satisfied with it. I believe writing this was a long time coming, even if nothing comes from it. This contest inspired me to write about a woman who meant so much to me and so many others. This is just a small tribute to such a huge life!
So... here it is... let me know what you think. :-) Enjoy! (Also, I'm not totally set on this title. I'm open to suggestions.) Thanks for reading!
“Following Her Lead”

“It took me years to sort things out in my own mind, to get over the feeling of being an alien in a strange land… Finally after much soul-searching I realized that… I am worth a great deal. I am convinced that He has a purpose for my life and that many things have happened to enable me to achieve that purpose.” - “Letters to Erin” by Anne Tarlton (a.k.a. MawMaw) - 1981

There was a knock on my door. I looked at the neon-yellow numbers of the digital clock on my stove and realized it was before 9am on a Friday. Who would be knocking at this hour? This morning I was not alone. I had a little one, no more than four, sitting at my table munching on Cheerios. I was babysitting overnight for a friend from work. As the little girl stared up at me wide-eyed in curiosity, I could have never known at that moment that her innocence would be such a symbol of what I would lose that day. I smiled at her and went to answer the door.

There he was, standing in the doorway. A man I had known my entire life, but who looked so strange and distant now. I could hardly recognize him, the lines around his eyes seemed more pronounced and his clothes, unusually disheveled.
“Erin, I need to tell you something,” my father spoke with a somber, shaky voice. “You may want to sit down.”
“Okay,” I said hesitantly, backing away and inviting him in. We both looked over to see the little girl standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
“You’re still babysitting. She hasn’t left yet?” he asked cautiously.
“Well, can you take her home? You’ll need to come over to the house. We need to leave for Salisbury as soon as possible today.” I stared at him, confused, still trying to read his cryptic language, as he hesitated in telling me what was to be the end of this life, as I knew it. “It’s your MawMaw. Your Uncle Tim called us last night. A police officer came to the house to tell him that she…well, she died in a car accident last night. Erin, she was killed by a drunk driver.”
My heart sank into my stomach. I could hardly breathe. It felt as though I had just been held under water and I was struggling to come up for air. I sobbed uncontrollably as he continued on. “She’s been at a conference with Jean. They were driving back to their hotel. You know those mountain roads? It was raining and there was another car coming in the opposite direction. It hit them head on. Her car went over the embankment, but they believe she died on impact. Jean miraculously survived. She’s in the hospital now with severe injuries.” I sobbed, now on the floor, screaming, utterly inconsolable. I yelled at him. “Why did you wait? Why didn’t you tell me immediately when you found out? How could this be? I just talked to her two days ago! I was supposed to go pick her up this weekend to go to the beach. We’re going to the beach. She was so excited! I didn’t even get to say good-bye! How could this happen? It can’t be true!” He picked me up off the floor and held me in his arms, though I remained limp. I hadn’t the energy to hug him back. I needed to be held. I needed to be reminded that this life was still worth living, as fleeting as it may be.
After a few minutes, my sobbing had turned into steady tears. The little girl, clearly confused by the situation before her, came over to hug me and my brain snapped back into present reality. I needed to figure out where she would go. I called her mom and told her a brief synopsis of what had happened, and she hurried over to pick up her little one.
After everyone had left, I showered and cried more than I knew I could. I stood against the shower wall, screaming at God, questioning everything I ever believed was true and real. I packed my things in a daze, thinking that this was not the trip I should be packing for.
When I reached my parent’s house, my mother was in worse condition than I. Her face was red and her eyes were puffy from the tears that I knew had been continuous since the night before when she found out that her mother had died. I hugged her long and hard. She was my best friend, but she had lost hers. How could she bear to keep on living? How could I?
Our trip to my hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina was strange. There was a stillness in the June air that made me daydream of a life with her still in our presence. My grandmother, the most amazing woman I have ever known, was gone. I was strong, as I knew she would have been. I saw everyone in a raw state of being that only sudden death could bring. We talked and remembered. We cried and laughed. We hugged and gave each other space.
The funeral was full of many whose lives she had touched throughout her incredible life as a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, writer, educator, churchgoer, and minister. Her life was lived in love and truth. She never claimed to be perfect, but to many she stood on a pedestal that was higher than most could ever reach. She loved to teach and inspire others. She was the woman many people only dreamed that they could be. She was the woman I dreamed to be. She taught me many things: the love of reading, the importance of family, and the thrill of stepping out independently into an unknown world of miraculous discoveries. She taught me the joy of succeeding and the acceptance of failure. She taught me purpose and respect for life. She taught me how to enjoy the simple things that make life so special. She taught me the overwhelmingly selfless act of unconditional love. She taught me what it means to be a family. She, even in her death, taught me to stand for what you believe in through your final day on this earth.

A few weeks after her death, I was delivered boxes of books that had crowded her closets and bookshelves in her tiny mountain trailer, but a manila folder lay on top that caught my attention immediately. My mother told me, “These were to you. She wrote you letters when you were a baby. She wanted to publish them, but the time was never right, I guess.”
I sat in the blue oversized chair in my living room and read for hours. She wrote to me of the woman I knew so well. I cried over stories of her search for identity and her acceptance found truly in Jesus Christ. I laughed over the letter of her smoking addiction and her inability to “kick” the habit once and for all. Her writing was so vivid that I could almost hear her voice telling me the stories of her incredible life. These letters brought her back to me. They made her real once again, even if for only a moment. I felt honored that she wrote to me when I had spent only minutes on this earth, and she had spent a lifetime. Here I was, with her lifetime over and mine just beginning.

It has been 6 years since her death, but I feel her presence in my life every day. I think of her each morning when I see my daughter’s sparkling blue eyes that remind me so much of the great-grandmother she will never meet. With every new book I read, I think of her and how she would enjoy just one more good story. I think of her in Autumn when the leaves change to beautiful shades of orange, red and yellow, but most of all, I think of her each day when I speak to my mother. She gave me many gifts in my life, but this particular gift of the amazing woman I am honored to call “mom” could not have been more perfect.
Though we live four hours away, I talk to my mother every day. As our relationship grows, I am reminded that this life is fleeting. We are never promised tomorrow and my grandmother’s sudden death was a harsh reminder of that reality. Every day my heart overflows with profound thankfulness that I have been blessed with such amazing women in my life. I pray every day that my own daughter will understand the priceless effect of having a mother who is also a best friend and that I will be able live up to the footprints that have lined my path to this place called "motherhood".


M&M said...

Erin, this is so beautiful in every way!!! You are an amazing woman!

Patty said...

I love you my darling daughter. I pray that God will guide Caroline to love and cherish you as her mom and best friend. My Mother, you, Caroline and I have been blessed beyond measure. I praise God every day for this beautiful legacy of love. It is a joy to watch it continue in You and Caroline!